Friday, August 28, 2009

Fresh Sheet - August 28, 2009

“Fresh Sheet” is our weekly shipment report of pupae on display in the emerging window. Visit Pacific Science Center's Tropical Butterfly House and meet our newest residents.


12 - Cethosia biblis (Red Lacewing)
40 - Danaus chrysippus (Plain Tiger)
20 - Doleschalia bisaltide (Autumn Leaf)
15 - Graphium agamemnon (Tailed Jay)
50 - Hypolimnas bolina (Great Eggfly)
68 - Idea Leuconoe (Paper Kite)
15 - Pachliopta kotzeboea (Pink Rose)
30 - Papilio lowii (Sunset Swallowtail)
30 - Papilio palinurus (Banded Peacock)
25 - Papilio polytes (Polite swallowtail)
06 - Papilio rumanzovia (Crimson Swallowtail)
60 - Parthenus sylvia (The Clipper)

In preparation for our annual cleaning of the Tropical Butterfly House, this is the last pupae shipment until September 21. Follow PacSciLife over the next couple of weeks as we blog the logistics of this year’s Big Clean.
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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Mole-Rat Update

The biggest news of the summer at Pacific Science Center’s Life Sciences department has got to be the baby naked mole-rats born on August 6. Because many people have been asking about the babies’ welfare, Life Sciences Manager Sarah Moore has provided a week-three update.

**This article was updated on August 31, 2009. See below**

Sometime around August 23 the mole-rat pups passed a very important milestone. That was when staff members spotted them eating solid food.
Their first foods, sweet potatoes and jicama, are both fairly firm, crunchy food, not what we think of as a good texture for infants. However, there were softer foods available, such as thawed frozen peas and “dough balls” made from baby cereal mixed with nutritionally complete rodent food. Yet the pups chose something very chewy.

These little animals are already growing teeth. Like other rodents, naked mole-rats’ teeth continue to add enamel throughout their lives. The process of chewing helps them keep their teeth even and at the right length, so chewing hard foods probably feels good to them, even as babies. Having good, functional teeth is a sign that our babies are developing well.

As they start eating more adult food, the pups will show a very unusual behavior. They will start begging older animals for cecotropes, a special kind of pellet produced by the digestive systems of mature naked mole-rats. The pellets give the pups valuable beneficial organisms (probiotics) that help them digest their food. Without them the babies would not be able to get the nutrients they need. Readers with pet rabbits may have observed them eating their own cecal pellets for the same reason.

The pups are also starting to move around the chambers on their own. This is a positive development as some of the workers recently worked their way through one of the barriers that was separating the nursery from the main colony. The entire colony is now together with the new mother and her pups. So far their behavior appears healthy and normal.

Our Animal Care team will continue to monitor them closely to ensure that the pups are not harmed by the many large workers that are now surrounding them. Come visit our exhibit at Pacific Science Center and check back on this blog for more updates as these adorable babies continue to grow.

On Saturday August 29, our Animal Care staff discovered that one of the naked mole-rat pups had died. Unfortunately we were not able to bring it to the vet for a necropsy, so we will not know the exact cause of death. This is a reminder that the mole-rat pups are still in a fragile stage of their lives. We are approaching day 28. By September 11, day 36, they will be entirely eating solid food. That will be the second time of high risk. We have to hope the cecotropes did their work as a lot of mammals run into problems at weaning.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Focus on the Tide Pool

This spring, Discovery Corps Intern Nancy decided to put all her energy into making a Tide Pool guide for the Science Interpreters at Pacific Science Center’s Puget Sound Salt Water Tide Pool. During the process, she discovered that even though Tide Pool Interpretation is some staff members’ least favorite activity, there is a solution.

Nancy's Story

While I was working on the Tide Pool Interpretation Guide at Pacific Science I noticed that many staff members have complained about interpreting at tide pool. Some people seem to have trouble talking to people older than themselves or guiding kids who just don’t want to listen. Since Operations Lead Joy DeLyria and I are doing the tide pool guide, we thought, “Why not have a focus group to discuss problems and give tips on interpreting the Tide Pool?” Thus, the Tide Pool Focus Group was born!

We had put a sign-up sheet in the break room and soon many people enrolled. Even after we took down the sign-up sheet more people wanted to join. So far we’ve had two focus groups and will have another one on Sunday, August 30. We mix the group up with both Discovery Corps and Science Interpretation staff in order to get a good assortment of problems and ideas for solutions.
Because we had to meet somewhere other than the Tide Pool, I made these little models to stand in for our Tide Pool animals. Can you recognize the Sea Urchin, Sea Anemone, Sea Cucumber, Grunt Sculpin, and Hermit Crab below?

Our first meeting was very successful but many noted that there wasn’t enough time to discuss other problems in the hour that we scheduled for them. The feedback we received from both groups is very encouraging. Perhaps we’ll be able to have other focus groups in the future on this and other science interpretation problems.

Pacific Science Center’s Discovery Corps is a youth development program for high school students 14 and older. The program teaches job and life skills while providing a unique interactive experience for our visitors. Trained individuals such as Nancy, graduate on to special projects, internships, and staff positions in different departments of Pacific Science Center. Want to learn more? Please email or call (206) 443-2884.

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Friday, August 21, 2009

Fresh Sheet - August 21, 2009

“Fresh Sheet” is our weekly shipment report of pupae on display in the emerging window. Visit Pacific Science Center's Tropical Butterfly House and meet our newest residents.

El Salvador

25- Catonephele numilia (Numilia)
20- Colobura dirce (Mosaic butterfly)
10- Consul fabius (Tiger Leafwing)
10- Dryadula phaetusa (Banded Orange Heliconian)
06- Heliconius charitonius (Zebra Longwing)
25- Heliconius hecale (Tiger Longwing)
10- Heliconius hortense (Mountain Longwing)
25- Heliconius ismenius (Ismenius Longwing)
20- Heraclides anchisiades(Ruby-spotted Swallowtail)
50- Morpho peleides (Blue Morpho)
50- Morpho polyphemus (White Morpho)
20- Myscelia cyaniris (Blue Wave Butterfly)
30- Myscelia ethusa (Royal Blue Butterfly)
20- Papilio erostratus (Dusky Swallowtail)
07- Parides photinus (Queen of Hearts)
12- Prepona omphale=archeoprepona omphale (Blue Belly-Button)
10- Smyrna blomfildia (Blomfeld's beauty)

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Mole-Rat Babies

Call them ugly or cute, you must see our baby naked mole-rats. Looks aside, we are very excited to have developed husbandry protocols that helped get them through their crucial first week of life.

Eighteen months ago, the prospect of rearing mole-rat pups was a distant hope. Our colony was in serious trouble. We had lost half a dozen workers in as many months. Inexplicably, each animal’s necropsy (animal autopsy) showed unique causes of death –there was no single cause.

Making any major changes to these animals’ care is risky. As eusocial animals, mole-rats depend on scent cues to recognize members of their own colony. Any antibiotic treatment must be carefully developed to avoid killing their life-giving, symbiotic bacteria.

Two things caused me to consider trying antibiotics and husbandry changes. One was negative: the losses in the colony. Despite my fears about treatment, the risk of doing nothing was greater. The positive side was our new veterinary service, Avian and Exotic Animal Hospital . Dr’s Maas and Ferguson were committed to develop a protocol to bring the colony back into perfect health. They carefully examined the animals, testing their blood, stools, urine and nostrils for signs of infection. In due course, they developed treatment designed with mole-rats’ delicate digestive and behavioral needs in mind.

After two intense weeks of daily injections for each of our 23 colony members, bleaching their home and replacing all their contact surfaces, we saw glimmers of hope. Animals started gaining weight and the mysterious deaths ceased.

But the first pregnancy after these treatments ended badly. And over time, pups were born but the colony appeared unwilling or unable to rear them.

Interfering in the behavior of highly social animals often does more harm than good, but our colony had come to a reproductive standstill – adults were doing well, but the babies could not survive. Perhaps the colony, lacking experience with successfully rearing pups, needed some adjustments, at least to successfully bring up one litter.

Three days before her due date, the pregnant queen and two helpers were settled in chambers separated from the rest of the colony. To keep all the workers familiar with their queen, we switched one worker every morning and one each night with a new mole-rat from the colony.

When the queen gave birth, the helpers appeared calm but interested in the babies. By the next day we saw encouraging signs – a tiny white region in each pup’s middle indicated milk had made its way into their bellies.

On the tenth day (August 17), the pups were old enough to right themselves and move independently. Soon they will show interest in solid food. Next we can begin reintegrating the queen and her helpers into the colony.

The first year of a mole-rat’s life is one of challenge but with the most difficult ten days behind them, these pups are off to a good start!

Congratulations if you read this far! The first person to post a comment or question below wins a “behind the scenes” chance to help us care for the mole-rats, and if you wish, you may help choose color markings to identify the new babies.

-Sarah Moore, Life Sciences program manager

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Long Live the Queen!

Last week a member of Pacific Science Center’s Science Interpretation Department made an interesting observation at the bee hive, found in our Insect Village. She spotted a robust queen, efficiently laying eggs in the cells of the hive. Continuing to look around the rest of the hive, she made another observation that didn’t make quite so much sense. There was a second queen doing the exact same thing. (Dun-Da-Dun-Dun!)

Most people know that for a bee hive to live and thrive, it must have a queen. The queen is the largest bee in the colony and she is responsible for laying all of the eggs. Queen bees usually live between one and five years, while worker bees’ lives are measured in weeks, or at most months. Over time, the queen bee’s body will age and deteriorate, and eventually the time will come for her to be replaced. Beekeepers often replace the queen when they see signs of aging, but in the wild, replacement can happen in one of two ways:

Most often, an old queen dies suddenly before the rest of the colony has a chance to prepare. With no queen, what is a colony to do? Why, raise a new queen of course! Several larvae are selected at random and installed in larger cells built especially for them. These are generally found on the bottoms of the hive frames. Although genetically identical to a worker, the queens are physically different. They are fed large amounts of royal jelly, which allows their ovaries to mature. They will emerge as virgin queens. The first virgin queen to emerge will eliminate any others with a quick sting to each of the remaining queen cells. Then she takes off on a short mating flight before returning to the hive to settle down into her role of Queen Bee.

Alternatively, the colony will detect signs that the queen is starting to get old. As her pheromone output decreases and she fails to perform at the speed the workers want to see, the workers will begin to rear new queen cells. Once a new queen is available, the workers will surround the old queen so tightly that she overheats and dies. Ouch! The old queen has just been superseded.

We believe that in our hive, our old queen is being superseded. Although it is rare to catch the hive at a time when both the old queen and the new queen are alive and actively laying eggs, it is not entirely unheard of. While we have been able to locate one robust and healthy looking queen, the old, tired queen (distinguishable by a yellow dot painted on her thorax) has still been spotted hanging around the hive recently. How long will she remain? Stop by the bee hive on your next visit to Pacific Science Center and perhaps you can help us to solve this mystery. (Dun-Da-Dun-Dun-DA!)
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Friday, August 14, 2009

Fresh Sheet - August 14, 2009

“Fresh Sheet” is our weekly shipment report of pupae on display in the emerging window. Visit Pacific Science Center's Tropical Butterfly House and meet our newest residents.

01-Anartia fatima
11-Battus polydamas
14-Caligo eurilochus
14-Caligo memnon
28-Catonephele numilia
05-Chlosyne janais
04-Colobura dirce
35-Danaus plexippus
50-Dryadula phaetusa
16-Dryas iulia
34-Greta oto
06-Hamadryas amphinome
11-Heliconius charitonius
11-Heliconius cydno
27-Heliconius hecale
01-Heliconius ismenius
14-Heliconius melpomene
04-Heliconius sara
13-Heraclides anchisiades
07-Hypna clytemnestra
28-Mechanitis polymnia
36-Morpho peleides
38-Nessaea aglaura
02-Papilio cresphontes
02-Parides arcas
05-Parides iphidamas
02-Siproeta epaphus
19-Siproeta stelenes
01-Tithorea tarricina

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Monday, August 10, 2009

Bugs From Arizona

Each year Pacific Science Center sends a representative from the Life Sciences Department to the annual Invertebrates in Education and Conservation Conference. Last week, Life Sciences Manager, Sarah Moore attended and was able to work out a mutually beneficial maneuver with a few of her peers. Here is Sarah’s story:

Seattle was hot earlier this month, but it was even hotter in Rio Rico, Arizona. That’s where I attended the 2009 Invertebrates in Education and Conservation Conference. This annual event brings together teachers, insect hobbyists, invertebrate zookeepers and conservation workers to discuss the minutia of invertebrate behavior, ecology and husbandry, and how to make more people say “Ooh! Ah!” and fewer say “Eww! Ick!” about bugs.

It is a chance for people who care about the smallest creatures in our environment to talk with each other and be reminded that yes, small is beautiful. Little lives still matter, and preserving a habitat for beetles or teaching a child not to hurt a spider can have many beneficial impacts, including the conservation and greater knowledge of many larger life forms. It is also a chance for organizations that exhibit insects to meet and form friendships with the breeders and vendors who provide them.

One of the highlights of the gathering is getting to see what cool animals Hatari Invertebrates brought this year. This small but reputable company, specializing in Sonoran and Southwest arthropod species, always has amazing, beautiful and diverse insects, spiders and scorpions available for exhibit.

This year, while waiting in line to buy some velvet ants and grasshoppers, I caught the eye of Woodland Park Zoo’s Manager of Collections, who also happened to be attending the conference.

“Hey,” I said, “Are you adding arthropods to your collection too?”
“Well, I am purchasing some spiders for Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium as well as insects for our own display. Can we all ship them back together?”
“Sure. That would be ideal because the more organisms we ship, the larger and more heat-resistant container they can be transported in” (not actual words used, we don’t talk that way).

So all the regional purchases came back to Seattle in one big foam box. This not only saves on shipping costs, it is far safer for all the animals being shipped. A larger box with thicker walls is better insulated against extremes of heat. It also holds more air, which helps keep the insides of the cages from getting waterlogged or drying out.

At one time, regional organizations may have viewed each other as competition, or as having missions so different as to prevent working together. It was nice to share in this small way with our local zoos, knowing that the message of wonder these tiny animals bring is equally important to the work all three organizations do.

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Saturday, August 8, 2009

Hisser Mites

Animal Caretaker Adrian Eng and Discovery Corp Summer Intern David are waging war on the tiny mites that live on our Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches. This is Adrian’s first report from the front.

If you’ve ever handled a Madagascar Hissing Cockroach, you may have noticed some teeny tiny invertebrates crawling across their exoskeleton. These are mites and they call the cockroach’s body their home. Like travelers on a cruise ship, they move to and from different food sources utilizing our beloved roaches as their mode of transportation.

This mite species, Androlaelaps schaeferi, is not a cockroach parasite, as some scientists and hobbyists first believed. Instead, they perform commensalism, where one animal benefits while the other is unharmed and unaffected. A recent study from scientists at Ohio State University suggests they may even be beneficial to cockroaches, feeding on organic matter that would otherwise grow fungus. As beneficial as these mites may be, at Pacific Science Center we felt that an excess growth of mites was overly disturbing to the many staff and visitors that handle our cockroaches every day.

I teamed up with our Discovery Corp Summer Intern David and decided to wage a war with the mites. Our first goal was to reduce mite populations so that people are at least unaware of their presence. Our second goal is to figure out how to keep the mite population manageable in the long term.

We came up with a few techniques. Sweeping the mites with a soft brush seemed the most obvious choice. We also used very fine tweezers to remove mites one by one. This method was very tedious but effective. A more aggressive approach was dunking the roaches in water, which helped to loosen and dislodge the mites living on the body. This seemed uncomfortable and possibly dangerous for the roaches and the outcome was only moderately effective.

The most aggressive approach was using CO2 to incapacitate both the mites and the roaches. When they were both knocked out we were able to use an air canister to easily blow the mites off. This seemed the most effective technique but also the most invasive. Another suggested method was to dust the roaches with flour, something we will have to test the next time around.

This weekend we will begin our second round of treatment. I recently checked in on our roaches only to find that most of the mites have already returned in just a few weeks. As disappointing as this news can be, we are still determined to control the population of mites and are excited to find the best way to procure happy handlers and happy cockroaches.

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Friday, August 7, 2009

Fresh Sheet - August 7, 2009

“Fresh Sheet” is our weekly shipment report of pupae on display in the emerging window. Visit Pacific Science Center's Tropical Butterfly House and meet our newest residents.

August 4, 2009
31-Anartia amathea (Scarlet Peacock)
40-Battus polydamas (Polydamus Swallowtail)
40-Biblis hyperia (Red Rim)
50-Caligo memnon (Owl Butterfly)
11-Catonephele orites (Orange-banded shoemaker)
25-Colobura dirce (Mosaic butterfly)
15-Dryas julia (Julia Longwing)
26-Heliconius erato (Small Postman)
10-Heliconius melpomene (Postman)
21-Heraclides anchisiades(Ruby-spotted Swallowtail)
10-Parides lysander (Lysander cattleheart)
21-Tithorea harmonia (Harmonia Tigerwing)

El Salvador
August 6,2009
15-Anteos maerula (Ghost sulfur)
10-Battus belus
15-Caligo memnon (Giant owl)
15-Colobura dirce (Zebra mosaic)
17-Hamadryas glauconome (Glaucous cracker)
18-Heliconius erato (Small postman)
18-Heliconius hecale (Golden longwing)
20-Heliconius ismenius (Ismenius longwing)
25-Morpho peleides (Blue morpho)
50-Morpho polyphemus (White handkerchief)
30-Myscelia ethusa (Royal blue)
16-Papilio erostratus (Dusky swallowtail)
09-Parides montezuma (Montezuma's cattleheart)
20-Parides photinus (Pink spotted cattle heart)
10-Phoebis philea (Orange barred sulfur)
30-Prepona omphale=archeoprepona omphale (Blue belly button)
22-Smyrna blomfildia (Blomfeld's beauty)
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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

August Butterfly of the Month


  • Range: Southern United States to tropical South America

  • Although there are 24 different species in the genus Myscelia, our Tropical Butterfly House only flies two: M. ethusa (Royal Blue) and M. cyaniris (Blue Wave). M. ethusa is notably brighter with a very intense, iridescent blue coloration.

  • The males of this genus are often found perched on tree trunks. They may also mistake people for tree trunks and land on them as well. Females are quite active during the middle of the day. However, neither male nor female are capable of flying long distances.

  • If you're able to spot a Myscelia at rest, you may notice that they close their forewings into their hindwings, forming a trianle. These butterflies are so compact that they are almost invisible! This is another good reason to check yourself closely before you leave the Tropical Butterfly House.

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